Sunday, July 28, 2013

How computers have changed in my lifetime.

I have lived long enough now to say that I remember the saying that "computers are the future for man". Of course, that was being said in the late 1950's and 1960's. I never saw a real computer till the World's Fair in New York in 1964-65. Most probably it was not a real computer, just operational to fit the demonstration that was going on for the fair. But at the fair I learned what computers would do for us. I am still waiting for computers to do some of what was said at the fair.

1. clean the house
2. drive a car
3. start the dinner at home
4. run the household
5. take care of all the bills
6. call you on the phone
7. be an entertainment center

That was just a few of the things I remember at the fair, as to computers. Of course my only understanding of computers at that time circa 1965 was things like Robbie the Robot, Batman, Time Tunnel, and other movies and TV shows.  Also lots of toys being made in Japan of all kinds of robots and phony computer activated devices.

I really kind of thought the same of robots and computers. They seemed the same..They were from the future.  I was looking forward to computers and robots driving and cleaning. I remember at the World's Fair there was an exhibit that had a car driving itself and that gave the ladies in the car more time to relax and smoke. It was a different age!

The closest I came to robots was in 1969 in Ft. Lauderdale Florida in which a A&P store was retrofitted with automatic devices to make shopping easier and it led to a massive disaster at the store which I wrote about several years ago.

I saw my first computer in High School. It was the size of a large room. Also it really did nothing much except punch some of those silly computer punch cards. My school was very excited  All of our special cards for teachers to sign came from that computer. So it had holes all over where people needed to write.

In the late 1960's and early 1970's the reel to reel type of computer taped machines really made a splash and many companies used them. I remember working for a few few companies that had them. all the blinking lights in front that did nothing, just were there. This I learned from a repairman,  to let people know it was doing something. We had all looked at the lights in the computers on TV and were amazed by the lights that flashed on and off and I was rather let down by that info.

I worked for a company in 1979 that had two massive consoles and two massive computers connected to the consoles by many wires. Each time we needed to change any info we needed to change the reel. Connected to the computers were massive printers to make the spreadsheets and they noisily typed out like a typewriter all the information. The papers always got jammed in these copiers. The whole thing was huge, ineffective, gave off a lot of heat, and was extremely temperamental;.

The personal computer made its splash in the late 1970's using cassette tapes. They were not much more than a toy. But in 1982 the IBM personal computer made its first appearance. It was not too fast to gain ground as there was not too much to do with them. Of the two models there was one with a hard drive (IBM AT) and another that just used floppy discs (IBM XP).

I was very lucky at the dawn of the computer age to get a job at a research laboratory under the unique and brilliant eye of Dr.Gopinath ..We all called him Gopi for short and it was a rare privilege to work under him. The fact of how I understood the idea of how a research lab worked helped later in Edison research.

Gopi ordered a 20 IBM computers in his quest for artificial intelligence. When Gopi saw me looking at these new and  rather small computers he said to me "Jack start playing with them, have some fun"  So I turned on an IBM AT computer and it slowly came up and the monitor came on and was in color. It was so amazingly basic, but to me that day it was like entering a new world. I had a wonderful time working at Gopi's lab and I was there a long time till funding was reduced.

Before long there was a IBM AT Plus and more computers came into the fray. In the mid 1980's, we had an early form of internet at Bellcore where I was working and we could send rather quick communications to other workers in the building. Of course this was early on and we were programming using VI and C. We also had huge Sun Microsystem computers. that could give you separate windows. Which was an amazing feature.

By the late 1980's I was working for a computer store and repair place. It was called Microage Computers and this was the age of the networks and servers. I did simple repairs on the rather simple computers. The fanciest machine at this time was the Compaq 286. In fact I was at the party for the announcement of the newest and most advanced computer ever at the time. The Compaq 386.

It was at this time I got out of the computer field.

Now 25 years alter I am writing this on a computer I would never have dreamed of then. On to an internet that was not even dreamed of either. The computer has become a part of our lives. Now we have smart phones that are little computers and much more that I really do not understand.

Once I was on the cutting edge of this technology, now I see things that are beyond my wildest dreams. What will be the next giant step? I am amazed and I remember where it all began. My hasn't it been amazing!

Those of us who were in this first generation of computers saw the beginnings of a whole new world.